Neighborhood profile: Wesley Heights

Correction: An earlier version of this article contained an incorrect spelling for an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member. He is Kent Slowinski, not Slowinsky. Also Balducci’s gourmet food moved out of a building on New Mexico Avenue in the community in 2009, not in 2008. This version has been corrected.


Homes in the Wesley Heights neighborhood of Northwest Washington represent a wide variety of architectural styles. (Amy Reinink/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
March 15, 2013

Most of what Edward Cavalcanti likes best about Wesley Heights can be observed at Horace Mann Elementary School’s field on a Saturday morning, when neighborhood kids gather for impromptu soccer games.

First, there’s the school itself, whose top ratings make the neighborhood a draw for young families.

Then, there’s the plethora of parks and public fields within walking distance, including Battery Kemble Park to the west and Wesley Heights Park and Glover Archbold Park to the south.

There’s also the strong sense of community forged on the sidelines among a diverse crowd of parents.

“There are a significant number of people who work for international organizations who live in Wesley Heights,” said Cavalcanti, 49, a 15-year resident. “At the playground, it’s not that unusual to hear Italian, German, Spanish or any number of other languages being spoken at any given time. And there are a number of other parks and playgrounds a short drive or bike ride or walk away. If you have kids, there’s no excuse not to be outside playing on a nice day.”


(Gene Thorp/The Washington Post)

Residents say those are just a few of the perks that come with living in Wesley Heights, a Northwest Washington neighborhood south of Tenleytown and Spring Valley.

Wesley Heights was developed by W.C. & A.N. Miller in the early 1900s, with most houses being built in the 1920s and 1930s, according to Kim Gibson, an agent with Washington Fine Properties, who has lived in Wesley Heights for more than 16 years.

Gibson said the neighborhood’s diverse housing stock, which includes everything from original W.C. & A.N. Miller homes to modern mansions, is one of many features that attract home buyers.

“It was an era which enjoyed good design and real quality control in home building,” she said.

These days, those houses frequently carry a seven-digit price tag, with houses currently on market priced as high as $14.9 million, according to Gibson.

Longtime resident George E. Watson, an 81-year-old retiree, said tear-downs and additions to the neighborhood’s original homes in the 1980s threatened to change Wesley Heights’ architectural character. In an attempt to curb the trend, he and other residents successfully petitioned for an overlay zoning code that limits lot coverage to 30 percent, limits tree removal and sets requirements for setbacks, among other changes.

“When we moved here in 1969, the neighborhood reminded me of the area I lived in as a boy in Connecticut,” Watson said. “The houses were all somewhat conservative, with a variety of designs. We sought the overlay when we saw people building houses that were bigger, but not necessarily better, and it has done a lot to curtail overbuilding.”

Watson said the fact that Wesley Heights’ streets are lined with sidewalks has also helped maintain the neighborhood’s sense of community, as people travel by foot to shops and restaurants in Foxhall Square, which will soon count a Wagshal’s deli as a neighbor.

“People make good use of the sidewalks, and a lot of people stop as they walk by my house and start conversations,” Watson said. “I think that just makes it a nice, cohesive neighborhood.”

Residents also gather at events such as the neighborhood’s annual holiday party at Hawthorne Circle and the a progressive dinner, held every other year, to benefit Horace Mann Elementary School.

“Horace Mann fundraisers, like the progressive dinner and the international food fair, really bring the neighborhood together,” said Glenn Westley, 62, a freelance economist who has lived in Wesley Heights since 1993.

Cavalcanti said having Horace Mann nearby is one of several perks that make the neighborhood popular among young families like his. Families moving to Wesley Heights from other neighborhoods in the District can get some of the benefits of suburban life without actually moving to the suburbs.

“It can seem like your choices are either living the city life in Dupont Circle, or living in a huge house in Northern Virginia but having nowhere to go,” Cavalcanti said. “Here, you’re close enough to enjoy the benefits of living in the city, but you’re not right on top of a Metro. You can easily and quickly get to the art and music on 14th and U, but you don’t have to deal with the fantastic mayhem of actually living there.”

Gibson said Wesley Heights sees “relatively low turnover and usually has a long waiting list of buyers eager to find a home in our neighborhood,” adding that one of her neighbors has lived in her house since the 1940s.

Kent Slowinski, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative for the neighborhood, said multiple generations of families call Wesley Heights home.

“There are several families whose children grew up in Wesley Heights, and their grandchildren are now doing the same,” said Slowinski, who grew up in the neighborhood and now lives in the house his wife grew up in. “Some are living in the same houses; others are just around the corner.”

Westley also touted the “urban-suburban feel” of the neighborhood, which is flanked on two sides by parks.

“You’re surrounded by parkland and big, old trees, and you can have a beautiful backyard where your kids can play soccer and whiffle ball,” said Westley, who moved to Wesley Heights from Burleith after his second child was born.

That suburban feel comes with some downsides, including a dearth of public transportation. Many residents say they drive to the Tenleytown Metro station rather than make the 15-to-20-minute walk there.

Watson said that while the neighborhood has bus service, “that’s several blocks away for most people,” Watson said.

“Most of us do depend on our cars,” Watson said. “If you run out of eggs or run out of milk, you’ve got to go several blocks before you can find anything.”

The lack of a grocery store nearby underscores occasionally strained relations between Wesley Heights residents and American University, whose most recent 10-year campus plan was a source of debate in the neighborhood.

Westley helped spearhead a petition requesting that AU consider allowing a grocery store to move into a building it owns on New Mexico Avenue. The building was vacated by gourmet-food purveyor Balducci’s in 2009.

Other points of contention include the university’s plans to build student housing at what is now a parking lot on Nebraska Avenue, which residents worry will increase traffic and noise levels.

But residents also touted the benefits of living close to AU.

“The neighborhood is very diverse, and having a large university as a neighbor is a big part of that,” Cavalcanti said.

Amy Reinink is a freelance writer.

ZIP CODE: 20016

BOUNDARIES: Roughly, Nebraska Avenue to the north, New Mexico Avenue to the east, Wesley Heights Park and Glover Archbold Park to the south, and Battery Kemble Park to the west.

SCHOOLS: Horace Mann Elementary, Hardy Middle and Woodrow Wilson High.

HOME SALES: Since the beginning of 2012, according to Kim Gibson of Washington Fine Properties, 26 houses sold, at prices ranging from $810,000 to $3.4 million, as well as 13 townhouses ($735,000 to $1.25 million) and 72 condos and co-ops ($183,000 to $1.4 million). On the market are 12 single-family houses ($999,990 to $14.9 million), three townhouses ($735,000 to $899,000), and 16 condos and co-ops ($295,000 to $1.95 million).

WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Glover Archbold Park, Battery Kemble Park, Wesley Heights Park, American University.

WITHIN 15 MINUTES BY CAR: Downtown Washington.

TRANSPORTATION: The N2 and N6 Metrobus lines serve the area. The Tenleytown Metro station (Red Line) is about a mile away.

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